Do you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be more qualified than you boss?
Well, you might be right. People got promoted for lots of reasons, not all of which have to do with their qualifications. Your boss could have gotten the position because of seniority, because of years of experience, or maybe it’s even the result of politics.
It could also be that your definition of “qualified” is different than that of the people who promoted your boss. Maybe your boss has education, credentials, or a work history that you’re unaware of. Or even if your boss doesn’t have the technical expertise, maybe he or she has the softer leadership skills required to manage a team of more qualified employees.
No matter the reason, working under someone who you don’t think is qualified can be a frustrating experience. So what do you do? Do you take your irritation out on your boss, complain to your coworkers, and potentially harm your career? Or do you just make the most of an annoying situation?
The choice of how to deal with an under-qualified boss is all yours.
Don’t take it personally: You may never know why your boss was promoted to his or her position despite the apparent lack of qualifications – but it most likely wasn’t as a personal slight to you. Remember that your career isn’t a zero-sum game: your future successes won’t be canceled out by your boss’s current position.
Learn from your boss: Even if you feel your boss is less qualified than you, try to find something to learn from her. Is she great at sales? A networking genius? A talented project manager? If you shift your focus from obsessing about your boss’s lack of qualifications, you may be surprised by what she can teach you.
Stay positive: If you feel like your work situation is unfair, it can be easy to become negative or combative. But try to keep a positive outlook instead of letting your attitude turn sour. Remember: being a disgruntled employee won’t get you anywhere, and might even ruin any chance you have at a promotion later.
Don’t badmouth your boss: Badmouthing your boss is a terrible habit to get into. It’s not only unprofessional, but it can strain your relationship and harm your career if word gets back. Complaining can also bring down your morale, dragging you deeper into hating your situation rather than figuring out how to make it work.
Lend a hand when needed: Sometimes your boss may need help with things that you’re an expert in. Don’t let your frustration get in the way of working together as a team toward the good of the organization. If your boss has questions, or would benefit from your help, lend a hand.
But don’t keep covering for your boss’s mistakes: I’m not suggesting you out your boss, or try to bring him down, but it shouldn’t be up to you to take the fall or constantly cover for your boss’s lack of knowledge. If you do, you’re setting a dangerous precedent that will hurt not only your own career, but could hurt the organization.
Whatever you do, keep the focus on your own career
Sure, you may be frustrated by your work situation right now, but don’t let that derail your entire career – and certainly don’t waste all your energy and career capital trying to bring down your boss. Instead, if your current situation isn’t working, look for ways that you can advance your career – whether that’s additional professional development, mentoring, or expressing your interest in other positions within the company.
In the end, you’re the only one who can advance your career. Letting your frustrations with your boss hold you back won’t solve the problem in the short run, and definitely won’t help you in the long.
Have you ever had a boss who was less qualified than you? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments.
All of my federal bosses were less technically competent than me. One didn’t mind that: in fact, he prided himself on assembling a highly qualified group. One I unintentionally offended by unintentionally implying that he was wrong about something. I believe I ran into resentment along the way. I also was trapped by rules designed to make progress difficult. A final manager did his best to marginalize me. So, I left. It took a very long time, but I found another position where my previous work is highly valued and I’m left alone to work on assigned tasks.
Excellent article. I have been there multiple times in my many years of employment. Thank you, Jessie.
Another thought–document the heck out of the recommendations and judgments you make. Be sure you can show the line of decmarcation for your contributions versus the judgments your boss makes and final products he/she may deliver higher up. Use these not to be antagonistic, but to keep in the back pocket if issues about your boss’ performance trickle down to you at performance evaluation time.
Keep it factual and let the reader (e.g., your boss’ boss) make the call as to whether you were right when your boss faltered. Make it about what you brought to the table that others may have been unable to see, not about what your boss did or didn’t do.
In an argument between you and your boss’ boss about your boss’ competence, you will never win. Present facts, when prompted, and try your best to stay neutral. Don’t be “that person” who can’t stay professional about a bad situation. Your squeaky wheel behavior will brand you just as badly as your boss’ shortcomings may brand him/her.
I have had two supervisors that fall under this category. Overall, I’ve had five since beginning my employment here eight years ago. The constant turn-over has a demoralizing effect on my coworkers and myself. The most frustrating thing is when they say one thing and then when it doesn’t work out, say the exact opposite and come down on us for “…not following explicit instructions.” Four of my seven colleagues have left within the last year and I am currently looking for other employment, though the library field is small and extremely competitive. Volunteering in other areas of the institution to gain a more versatile resume and knowing that I will find another position has helped me to remain positive througout this difficult situation.
I appreciate this article. My career has been in the Federal government. I can honestly say that I’ve NEVER had a manager that was technically qualified and therefore could NEVER teach me technically. In all of my jobs, I had to learn the job on my own by studying “AFTER HOURS”. In jobs were it was formal training then practice, I’ve had to study after hours to keep from being targeted. I’ve liked most of my managers which made the manager’s lack of skills/knowledge tolerable. The ones I disliked, I practiced, “you stay down and your end, and I’ll stay on my end.” In other words, I kept my distance. I now an individual who works closely with executives. I would like to know how to deal with executives who dislike you for no reason. I am dealing with that now. It is not personal against me, but someone else who hired me, however I am in the crossfire and am being impacted.
My boss was hired without any experience or Technical knowledge of this executive VA position over more highly qualified applicants. I was tasked by upper management to train him cause I had 10 years experience in that position. He resented that one of his employees was training him how to do his job and I have been punished for it ever since.
The topics were usefull and interesting. I learned some good points.
I have always found it interesting when people think their boss needs to be technically superior in order to be a good boss. Even when my boss was a genius in something, he was rarely a genius in the areas that are my forte. My view is — if I am not filling a hole, then why did I get hired in the first place? Occasionally I have met people who I wondered how they got there. My conclusion is that they must have had the right connections. It isn’t the level of competence that is the issue — it is how they handle it. Do they understand themselves well enough to know that they are not in their field of expertise? The dangerous ones are clueless. Those are the ones that make decisions without asking for opinions or help.
My method of handling the clueless or the boss who is getting out of their field of expertise is to tell them good naturedly that I am firing them from MY project and if they want the project back, they have to take it back completely. It is amazing how being a little more blunt about the conflict goes a long way to resolving the issue.
Great Article, glad it’s brought to the forefront. I agree it happens all the time. In todays working environment it’s not what you know but who you know. I have always noticed or read about this trend during or after a recession. Lots of favoritism and borderline discrimination happens as a result.
For me it’s not about whether my boss is more or less qualified than me I don’t expect that they’re going to know all of the technicalities of what I do and that’s why they hired me. What I do have a big issue with it when my boss tries to teach me, guide me, talks down to me, gives me instructions that I know are clearly wrong and/or illegal. No matter how diplomatic we I tried to point it out he gets upset, to the point where he’s almost visibly shaking. Some of these things I present with the corrected information and follow it up with but I’ll do it however you want and others i have to flat out say no that’s illegal and tell them why. Then it gets even better, he starts picking that every little thing I do. Yes I’m job hunting.
Look at te charter schools in New York City as an example. The principals are 24 year olds with mabe one or two years (or less) of teachng experience. They alwas screw up. Now look at Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chief. She had three years teaching experience, no advanced degree, and had never been an administrator. She made a mess of the schools.
Politics play a big role in selecting the boss.